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Helping to know Jesus and make Him known to others

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Owerri 19

How often do we really listen to the voice of God?  What is He saying to us right now?  Is He trying to get our attention about what is going on in the world?  And just what is happening in the world?  What should I be doing about it?

I thought about all these things while I was in Africa this time.  I left the news cycles in the US that were reporting all the unrest in Northern Africa and the Middle East.  In the part of Nigeria that I spent most of my time, there was no mention of world events.  That’s a luxury of information that people may have who are not worried about tomorrow’s meal, safety for their children, and basic health needs.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not denigrating the importance of any of the things that are happening in the world.  I am simply adding to our awareness.  The simplicity of this was a welcome distraction.  Sometimes I am so plugged into world events and the onslaught of their effect on my daily life that I fail to recognize the obvious: God is at work and He is inviting me to join Him.

While I have been blogging about this trip to Nigeria, God has been working on me overtime.  The blog is good spiritual therapy because it forces me to verbalize my impressions and capture them in words.  Sometimes I am surprised by what comes out.

I have lived most of my life thinking that my horizon is the end of the world.  No one on earth can afford to think like that anymore.  Our brothers and sisters in Nigeria need us.  Our world needs us to be engaged in the process of what God is doing at this time in history.  We cannot afford to reduce this to “either/or” thinking.  It must be a “both/and” thinking.  We must engage in both evangelizing our world and preparing God’s people for all that God is doing in the earth at this time in history.  “For such a time as this God has brought us to the Kingdom.”  God chose that we would be the ones born at this time.  What a privilege it is!


Monday, April 11, 2011

Owerri 18

I have prayed and pondered what this trip meant in the final analysis.  To say that it was a smashing success in every way you could measure is a decided understatement.  God had His Hand upon what we did.  I don’t think He was blessing what we were doing.  I think we were doing what He was blessing.  There is a huge difference!
I miss my brothers and sisters in Nigeria.  They have become part of the narrative of my life.  They are my history now.  I will never be the same person.  God has used them to chisel my soul and make me a better man than I was.  I pray that I will continue to let Him do His work in me.
God is at work in the world right now.  I do not understand all that He is up to nor will I until I can see it in the rear view mirror.  I am at peace in the hollow of His hand knowing that He is in control and not me.  As I left Nigeria this time, I left with the confidence that God will continue His work.  It is, after all, His work that He allows us the privilege of participating in.  At last, only one opinion matters: HIS!  So, I trust that my Nigerian family is in His grasp and that nothing can separate them from the love of Christ – nothing can separate them from our love either.  We are bound together for all eternity.  It’s more than good – it’s God!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Owerri 17

We shared the report of the trip with the church body yesterday.  This was a daunting task since there is so much to share.  It was great to see a packed house.  I wonder what Paul felt like when he returned from a missionary journey.  How could you remember it all in one sitting?    Again, let me thank all of you for your prayers, support, help and encouragement.  As Dr. Okere says “All of us are on the team and some of us get to go.”  Some of you sacrificed greatly in order for us to go to Nigeria.  May God bless you abundantly!

I am sure that I know why we went to Nigeria this time.  It was evident every day we were there.  I did not share the Gospel in one place that someone did not receive Christ.  Diseases and sickness were healed.  Deliverance from the grip of demons was accomplished.  The power of darkness was pushed back.  Relationships were renewed and new ones begun.  Investments were made in people, in education, in church planting, in relieving suffering and in general good will between Americans and Nigerians.  The excellent diagnoses and treatment by our medical team will be talked about for months to come.  They treated some people who had never seen a doctor.  Some of these people had never taken medication before.  Something as simple as ibuprofen can relieve a chronic ailment on the spot.  It is difficult for us to grasp this since we can buy the best medications in the world almost at will and never have to worry about its quality.

So, why did we go?  It was all the above and more.  But here’s the thing: you can’t tell God “no” and expect peace in your life.  When He sends you out, you had better go and go with a joyful spirit.

But here is the question that has perplexed me: what did He teach me about my own culture while I was in another culture?  The resistance to the Gospel is palpable in our culture.  One good friend has suggested to me that God wanted make us “stronger soldiers” as He threw us back into our own culture.  I am not the same man that left here.  You can’t be.

I look at the American church.  We view church growth as some sort of competition at building a better mousetrap to capture the static number of mice that are willing to jump from one vessel to another.  This disturbs me.  I fear that we are far too interested in what’s in it for me.  Our definition of success has taken on the American corporate image rather than the image of Jesus.  What impact are we leaving?  What will be our legacy?  Whose opinion really matters?

As I take inventory of my own life, I look at the ways I complicate the Gospel message by my own sin.  I feel that my own ego gets involved too often in living out the Gospel in Savannah.  I have doubted the power of God to change a life or set a soul free from demonic bondage.  I must trust in the One Who has the words of life.  I have seen Him change people and do the miraculous.  The situation of our world today demands from me a faithfulness that can not be deterred.  The only way I can do it is through the power of the Holy Spirit and the gifts He has distributed to me.

Let’s pray with Jesus “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Owerri 16

I spoke with the Rev. Dr. Clement Amadi yesterday.  He said that the people were still in a buzz about our visit.  He thanked me again said to be sure to convey the depth of his thanks to our church.  He is a great man of God.  He is a humble man of God.  We are the richer for having the privilege of knowing him.  He never seems to forget the main thing – that’s right, he keeps the main thing the main thing!  He is always looking for a way to see the Name of Jesus glorified.  Even at the Chieftancy ceremony he told me I would be called on to say something at the reception following.  What should I say?  He said clearly “Just make sure you talk about Jesus!”

Clement has become a good friend to me.  I never tire of talking to him.  He has much wisdom and is attempting to give himself away to his people that they may hear the Good News.  He is a very well respected man and leader.  Truly he has had all the jobs and done all the stuff.  But now he has reached a point in his life that he can do what he chooses and what he chooses is Jesus!  I have told him repeatedly that I pray a long life for him as long as Jesus tarries.  Please join me in that prayer.  This man has much more to give in the Kingdom.  And one other thing: he has a sense of humor.  He knows how to laugh at himself and not take himself too seriously.  I know that I must have entertained him often as I put my foot in my mouth.  I think he is going to be on the fun side of heaven too.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Owerri 15

The jet lag has kicked me pretty bad this time.  Maybe I was still thinking about my Nigerian kin and my body just couldn’t make the transition.  Regardless of the cause, I still seem to be on Owerri time.

I think of all our family there.  I hated to leave them.  I think they felt the same way – unless I don’t know the Ibo translation of “Come back when you can’t stay so long!”
To say that we were greeted with love and respect everywhere we went seems a little inadequate.  There was a graciousness and patience with us as we fumbled through their culture at times.  Their cheery nature and appreciation of a good laugh was medicine to my soul.  They even laughed at a few of my jokes – the intended and the accidental.  My translator only threw me under the bus once – that I know of.  But I do enjoy a good laugh even when it’s at my expense – that just gives me the license I need.

For some of you who are wondering if Nigerians like Americans – the answer is yes.  They are importing our culture rapidly – cell phones and televisions.  You may see a lady carrying something in a basket on her head (very traditional) while she is talking on her cell phone.  There is no monthly cell service.  You buy a card with phone credit on it and install that on the phone.                                         

Owerri 14

We landed in Atlanta safely.  The flight was 12 ½ hours – a direct flight.  I installed my battery in my cell phone so I could call Audrey – a very welcome sound on the other end.

There was no trip to Germany and Chicago this time – praise God!  Getting through US customs was easier than ever.  They must be scanning a lot.  The first thing everyone went for was the coffee.  It tasted very good and the breakfast sandwich wasn’t bad either.  Jonathan and Zach left us: Zach to his parents in Atlanta and Jonathan to his aunt who was going to give him a ride to Knoxville.  By the way, we are very proud of Dr. Zach Cohen.  He begins his residency at Emory Hospital in Atlanta - a great honor and tops on his list.  A lot of people would like to do their residency there, but only a few get to.  “Many are called but few are chosen.”  I wonder how long he will keep his hair (you must see the pictures).

We boarded the last plane on this trip – or so we thought.  Then there was a mechanical problem.  People complained, but we didn’t.  James said “Yeah, that’s just God answering prayer to keep us safe.  I’ll gladly get on another plane.”  So, we did – then we were off to Savannah.  We landed and then began our walk into the terminal led by High Chief Dr. Kennedy Keleche Okere.  At the end of our walk was a crowd of family and Jesus kin waiting with open arms.  What a welcome sight!  God lets us experience a little bit of heaven just to keep us in anticipation. The celebration spilled over into the baggage claim.  A brief prayer meeting with last words from Dr. Okere and we left for home sweet home – real sleep in a real bed.

Owerri 13

It is Sunday and we are getting ready to leave.  We are giving gifts to the people who have helped us, taking pictures (snappy), and giving out good bye hugs.  We must get to the airport early because there is only one flight out of Owerri to Lagos.  A trip by land would be about nine hours and I am not sure we would make it.

We were slightly delayed by the police again this morning. Dr. Okere’s vehicle was stopped for having tinted glass – something for which he has a permit.  But soon we were on our way.  We checked in and the waited for the plane.  It was delayed, but finally we left Owerri.  Our Jesus kin was sad to see us go, but it is never really a final good bye is it?

Dr. Okere’s friend picked us up in Lagos at the local airport and took over to the international airport.  It was very smooth.  When we arrived, the air conditioning was not working.  The airport is designed to have air running.  So, you can imagine what we smell like.  Our wait was fairly uneventful.  Michael was able to negotiate an Internet connection for us, so I was able to get part of the blog out.

Lagos airport is an assortment of people.  It is interesting to watch all of them come and go.  Lagos is a very large city.  The governor of that state has done great things to bring improvements since our last trip.

Finally we are on the plane after having our baggage inspected at three places.  The air is working and the seats are comfortable.  I am writing this while people are sleeping all around me.  It is 2:15 am (your time in Georgia).  Three more hours and we’ll be on terra firma in Atlanta.  Then, a few more and we’ll be in Savannah.  I have more posts to record.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Owerri 12

This is Saturday and Dr. Okere has dubbed this as our day of rest and preparation to return.  We slept in a little later.  My internal clock has adjusted very well to this new environment, so I am waking up at about the same time I wake in Savannah.  But it is nice to hear the birds singing each morning.  In fact we have spotted toucans in the trees next to the hotel.

The owner of the hotel is having the land cleared next to the hotel.  This is thick and jungle like.  They are doing it with a machete – one machete for three guys.  They even chopped  down several trees with the machete.  It was an amazing thing to watch as they chopped up the trunk into manageable pieces.  We watched them kill two snakes which they cleaned, cooked and ate on the spot.  One of the snakes was a cobra.

One of the young men who works for the hotel came by to see me this morning.  I have had several talks with him since we arrived.  Several of the team had talked to him about his relationship to God.  This morning he received Christ into his life.  It was a beautiful sound to hear his voice praying and asking our Lord to come into his life. He was ready.  I started him on the Arrival Kit.  He left and then the owner of the hotel brought his family by for prayer.  We talked and prayed for a long time.  It was affirming to me that we were in the right place.  Only God could bring trust this quickly for people to come and seek us out for prayer and spiritual help.
Several of us went out to the home of Leslie’s uncle.  He hosted us for a surprise meal.  He lives in New York, but also has a home in Owerri.  He is retired now and spends part of the year in Owerri.  His surprise meal for us was turkey and dressing, giblet gravy, rice, green beans, corn, and fruit cocktail. This is quite different than our meals before now – not very Nigerian, but very tasty.

Speaking of food – our Nigerian kin have enjoyed having us try all sorts of food.  Some have watched us intently to see how we would react to the food.  I have discovered some new dishes on this trip.  A Nigerian meal may include many things, but the first thing that comes on your plate is rice.  If you don’t eat rice, then you are culinary challenged in Nigeria.

As we traveled back to the hotel, I was reminded of the great disparity that exists in the nation of Nigeria.  Elections will happen here in a matter of weeks.  I am praying for these elections to bring to power men and women who will stand for freedom and against corruption.

After we got back to the hotel I left again to see Dr. Amadi one more time.  I had some gifts to give, some things for him to take care of for me, and some money give to him for the Community Baptist Church.  I thank God for all those who gave money for this trip.  We have invested it very wisely in the work that is going here.
Clement gathered us for prayer and prayed a beautiful prayer of blessing over me.  He then thanked me and sent a thank you to his family at The Sycamore.  His life and testimony is an honor to God and to all Christians everywhere.  Please pray that God will grant him long life to serve the Master for a long time.

A tearful departure came at sundown.  Stanley and I journeyed back to Ihiagwa.  A lot happens on a Saturday night.  There is much activity.  Downtown Ihiagwa looked like a flea market on steroids.  I am glad I was able to see it at night.
I had a surprise while I was away: the ladies had fixed Zach’s hair.  I wonder what his mom will say.  Dr. Cohen has a new look.

People visited us at our rooms the rest of the night as we prepared to leave the next day. It will be hard to leave these people.  Finally I can get to bed – I’m wound pretty tight tonight so it may take another minute to fall asleep – zzzzzz!

Owerri 11

We made our way back to the hotel late in the afternoon.  Nothing happens quickly here.  People take their time to enjoy the moment and spend time with people.  I must say that I have not missed the media overload of my western culture.  I have missed Audrey, Logan, my family and church family a lot.  I wish all of you could see this with your own eyes.  But I guess you will have to settle for seeing it all through the eyes of those who come back to the US.

Megan and Gary went down to the river with me to do a little experiment for my dad.  We encountered many people who were staring at us.  The river is a beautiful turquoise color.  There is lush vegetation on either bank.  You can see the fish swimming around. 
We also visited the “tree” in Ihiagwa.  It is one of the biggest trees I have ever seen.  It’s trunk is the size of a redwood.  The people of Ihiagwa  say that the tree was here before the Igbo  people.  It Is very old.  Our trip to the tree attracted a fair amount of attention.  The people there wanted to have their picture made – mugging for the camera just like in the US.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Owerri 10 Friday

Today was the day of the Chieftaincy Ceremony for Kennedy Kelechi and Leslie Okere.  I have looked forward to this ceremony with great anticipation.  We dressed for the occasion which was one of great pomp and circumstance.  As we arrived at the palace home of the King in Imerienwe, blasts rang out like cannon fire.  It signaled the arrival of the one who would be chief.  A band of young men who were singing, dancing and playing drums greeted Dr. and Mrs. Okere as they walked into open courtyard where the ceremony would be held.  There was a news reporter there with camera in hand.  The people crowded around.  It was a sight to behold.

Dr. and Mrs. Okere were dressed in matching costumes of beautiful material.  They greeted the King and Queen who were seated on their thrones in the center.  The King’s Council was gathered as well as many of the people from the village, friends and family.  Seated next to Dr. Okere was his mother and his uncle Dr. Clement Amadi.  

The ceremony began with the giving of the kola nut.  If you come to the home of the Igbo and you are not offered the kola nut, you should leave because you are not welcome.  We received the kola nut and were welcomed with open arms.  After some speeches, the King invited Dr. Okere to come forward.  He knelt and was presented multiple things symbolic of his title and office.  The most important, the king explained,  was the chief hat because it showed his identity and authority.  The Queen likewise conferred upon Leslie Okere her title and office.  It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Upon completion of the ceremony, the new chief and his bride made their way out the village with much fanfare.  We were able to see the High Chief shuffle.  I must say that Mrs. Okere is a better dancer.
We then made our way back to the home of Dr. Amadi for a reception and meal and a less formal gathering.  The village women danced and Mrs. Okere danced with them.  Blessings and thanksgivings were pronounced.  There was great joy.
Dr. Okere has been offered the chieftancy in other places.  He chose to accept this one because it was the home of his mother.  He has honored his mother greatly in doing this.

Owerri 9 – Thursday

Today the team was back together again.  We traveled out to Dr. Amadi’s home village of Imerienwe.  The First Baptist Church facility was the site of our clinic.  As we traveled down the road to this place, I can honestly say that a peace came over me – a peace that can only be from the Lord.  The feeling was palpable as we entered the village.  The people were waiting for us.  We were greeted with great honor and respect.

Our medical team treated many people.  There were cases of malaria, women with female issues, infections, a lot of arthritis, much high blood pressure, asthma and many other respiratory issues, infertility, fever, heart problems, cataracts, glaucoma, lung problems, dehydration and the list could go on and on.  Our doctors (Kennedy, Felix, and Zach) lovingly treated each of these people with the precision and grace that God gave them.  The task could be overwhelming – so much need and so little to throw at the need.  You must remember that our medical equipment consists of what these guys bring in their hands as well as the medicine we bring.  What we bring in the suitcases that must get through customs is very important.  That is why we ask you to pray for the safe arrival of all that we bring.  We can not afford to lose one bottle of medicine.  That might be the bottle of amoxicillin that kills an infection and changes a person’s life.

The pharmacy is a work of art.  The people bring the prescriptions that the doctors write and they are filled – if we have not run out of the medication.  I know that we ran out of malaria medication several times.  Somehow Dr. Okere and Ukpong (our pharmacist and prayer warrior) found and purchased more medication.  It takes many hands to make the pharmacy work.  It is intense because the people are waiting and sometimes they must wait a long time.  As the day draws to a close it becomes more challenging.  People will inevitably show up at the last minute and expect to get medication without being seen by a doctor.  It is very difficult to stop and close the clinic.  It hurts your heart, but it is necessary.  James, Jonathan and C.Y. are the assistants to Ukpong.  They worked very hard today.  In some ways this work could seem a little mundane until you remember that the delivery of medication may be the lifeline for some of these people. 

There was a large group of children for Megan to work with.  Some of the children were out of school, but most of them were in school which was next door.  Some of them would sneak out of their school to come over and be with Megan.  A ball and a Frisbee are universal in drawing a crowd of children.  Gary took an occasional break from pictures and video to play a little music and do some illusions for the kids.
The prayer and counseling room was busy today.  Many diseases were prayed over.  People came to faith in Christ.  Spiritual bondage was broken and demons cast out.  The power of God was evident in many instances.  People received prayers of restoration and blessing.  The pastor of the church, Rev. R.O.  Alozie, was with me for most of the day.  He is a very kind and compassionate man who walks in the love of Jesus.  He knows the people of his village very well.  He is man of prayer.  Once you are in his presence, you can feel the anointing of God upon his life.  Dr. Amadi also assisted us today as did C.Y.  Each of these men adds his own Godly flavor to the prayer room.  I enjoyed spending this time with God and these men as we prayed.  My cup was full.  At the same time, the Lord let me see a little bit of the great need of these people.  The whole thing would be too much.  Please pray for our Lord to continue to work in the lives of these people.

Today was the last day of the clinics.  When I originally looked at the list while still in the US, I thought it would be an easy schedule, but several times it became a little overwhelming to the team.  I underestimated the depth and breadth of the need.  Even though I have been here and to other third world countries, I fell victim to looking at the situation only through the eyes of a westerner.  How soon we forget!  This is not the West.

Owerri 8 Wednesday

Our team went to two places today.  The medical team went to a village about an hour away.  They officially treated about 124 people.  There were not quite as many cases of malaria.  They met in an open community building in the middle of the village.  The people had never seen free medical care.  They thought we were going to be there for two days, so some of them were waiting until the next day. I know this was very disappointing when they found out they were mistaken.  In the US we take for granted many of the services that are easily available to us.  Medical care and medicine are like gold in Nigeria.

 The King of the village was very helpful and grateful that we came.  He seemed to be a very kind man who had the interests of his people at heart.  Megan had a good group of kids.  They love her.  This clinic was the most organized of the clinics so far.  This was a reflection of the attitude of the King.  

The other part of our team went to the Baptist Theological School.  This was a highlight for me.  The school is located outside of Owerri.  It is an old school by Nigerian standards – it is 49 years old.  Dr. Amadi was a student there as well as a professor.  We were greeted with open arms and great love.  Gary played a beautiful version of Amazing Grace on his pocket trumpet.  Music is the universal language.  You could just feel any perceived differences melt away as he played.  I gave an address to the assembled student body and faculty on “Hearing the Voice of God.”  I was warmly and enthusiastically received. 

We then met with the Rector of the school and the faculty.  We presented gifts we had brought for them: Greek and Hebrew lexicons, commentaries, original language grammars, Greek New Testaments, a laptop computer and several other devices for teaching.  All of this was very graciously received.  The president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention was there.  Both he and his wife are professors at the school.  He is a man of great wisdom and keen insight.  His personal words to us were very encouraging.  He said “I know you did not plan all of this on the way to the airport.  You must have carefully planned all of this in order to bring all these things to us.  This makes me happy because I know that you have been thinking of us since you left here two years ago.  It would be easy to forget about us since we are so out of the way.  We thank God for you.”  I have not been able to forget his face or his words.  They struck me deep in my heart.
We were able to get to the internet café at the hotel in Owerri.  I apologize that we have not been able to be more regular with the posts.  It is difficult.  But, with as much progress as Nigeria is making, I am sure that easier internet access is just around the corner.

Last night several of the ladies at the hotel braided Megan’s hair for her.  They had been wanting to do this for several days. They wanted her to have an African look to take back home.  Zach brought out his guitar and we sang and laughed and had a good time together.  The wife of the hotel manager told me “You seem to feel free here – you can be yourselves.” That was a great compliment.